Tuesday, March 04, 2008

"My Eyes" Sunday - John 9 - March 2, 2008

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen

Dear Brothers and Sisters Enlightened in the waters of Baptism:

It is confessed every time we sing "Amazing grace."
It is confessed every time we remember our Baptism or receive the Lord's Supper.
It is confessed every time we gather as the sun sets for the service of Evening Prayer:
"Jesus Christ is the Light of the world; the light no darkness can overcome."

We have heard it since our days in Sunday School and Vacation Bible School.
We have seen it depicted in our illustrated Bibles and stained glass windows.
We have joined the disciples on the road to Emmaus as we find ourselves in the saving presence of Jesus and cry out to him,
"Stay with us, Lord, for it is evening, and the day is almost over.
Let your light scatter the darkness and illumine your Church."

For generations this Sunday, the Fourth Sunday in Lent, has been referred to as OCULI Sunday -- "My eyes" Sunday -- ever since the words of Psalm 25 were used as the Introit for this particular week in Lent: "My eyes are ever toward the Lord, ... ." (Psalm 25:15 ESV); and the words of Psalm 123 were read or sung as the congregation readied itself for the reading of the Holy Gospel: "To you I lift up my eyes, O you who are enthroned in the heavens!" (Psalm 123:1)

But even though today is referred to as "my eyes" Sunday, the object of the verb is not our eyes but the object upon which our eyes are drawn. "To you I lift up my eyes, O you who are enthroned in the heavens!"
This morning God has, in his abundant grace, gathered us around his Word and his Son and his Light and his Sacraments, that we might receive them with the eye of faith and put our trust in his saving treasures: the enlightening work of our compassionate Lord on behalf of all who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death. (Luke 1:79)
The ninth chapter of John has always enjoyed a special place in the hearts of God's redeemed people. As it is with many other sections of the fourth Gospel, this chapter soars in setting before our eyes a sign -- a manifestation -- of Christ's glory, that we might see salvation come not only from the hand of Christ, but especially his mouth, and respond with both our mouth and hand in an offering of thanksgiving.
Sadly, such is not the case with everyone who sees with their eyes and hears with their ears God's final revelation of salvation in his Son. We see that clearly and dramatically in this chapter of John's Gospel account, but for the catechumen, the believing student, of the fourth Gospel, it is no surprise.
For you see, everything has already been laid out before our eyes in the first few verses of Saint John's inspired Gospel. Redemption by the very Word of God taking upon himself our fallen flesh, that the light of God's grace might shine into the darkness of our sin-diseased hearts. Notice the themes of light and darkness and the gift of sight as we read together the first 18 verses of John. (Read John 1:1-18)
Those 18 verses reveal more about God and his grace and Moses and Christ and the wretched state of this fallen world and our spiritual blindness than just about every book sitting on the shelves in today's Christian bookstores.
In our Gospel today we see Jesus confront the darkness that has not only clouded and obscured our minds and our hearts but made us rebels that rage against the light, the light that exposes so that it might then illuminate, the light that uncovers our wretchedness so that it might be covered with the righteousness of God's Son who came to tent -- tabernacle -- among us.
Now the Gospel of John is structured around seven signs that shock all who see it and provoke a response that is attentive to the Word that follows, the word from Jesus that scatters the darkness and illuminates our darkened souls.
The first "sign" John presents is the miraculous gift of wine during the wedding at Cana, and the healing of the man born blind is the sixth, to be followed by (seemingly) the final sign as Jesus brings forth Lazarus from the dead.
But as we see in this ninth chapter, the miracle is given as an occasion to look upon the greater revelation from the lips of the Savior -- the gracious promise hidden to all but the eyes of faith as Jesus says: "Go, wash."
This section cannot be properly used to argue that we are not born sinful any more than it can be used to argue that it was the blind man's obedience and good work of following orders that ultimately account for his healing. Hidden in Jesus' instructions is his promise that creates trust to go and wash, just as it does when we hear the words, "Take, eat. Take, drink."
The Word made flesh created the heavens and the earth from nothing. He spoke and by his gracious will it was. And that same Word, now made flesh, created faith in the man born blind -- faith that believes Jesus as he says, "Trust in me and my salvation. With the same clay from which I created your first parent, I now re-create your sight and the greater gift of faith that looks to me for the redemption of this sin-blinded world."
A man born blind suffered the debilitating effects of a dark and dying world and to it was added the judgment of neighbors and passers-by who believed that somehow he -- or someone else in the family -- had deserved it.
My family is, today, in the Lutheran Church because -- in the midst of a family member born deformed and dying -- good-intentioned Christians told my parents that this was a direct result of some secret sin the two of them had committed -- a sin that they needed to make amends for before my brother's condition worsened.
In my parent's struggling with what Scripture revealed about sin and the effects of sin they were guided to the faithful counsel of a Lutheran pastor who simply sat down with my parents and a Bible and said, "Every one of us has been born into a sinful and fallen world and every one of us manifests that fallen-ness in different ways. I don't know why your son was born so sick. But let me tell you what I do know: God is a God of grace who has allowed this tragedy into your lives for the strengthening of your faith and ultimately for his glory."
We are, outside of God's grace and the redeeming Word of his Son, spiritually-blind people suffering in many and various ways the effects of our first parent's fall.
And regardless of what the TV and radio evangelists say, our hope is not that we have opened our eyes and decided to think good thoughts and make the world a little more like heaven.
Our hope begins with the confession that we were conceived and born with sin-infected eyes that refused to see anything farther than the illusion of gaining heaven by our own good works.
Our hope, this Fourth Sunday in Lent, or any other day, is to be found not in our fallen eyes, but in the eyes of another, who, passing by, saw us with the eyes of divine grace: the great I AM who's eyes are eyes of mercy and forgiveness, eyes of a loving-kindness that will not rest until all has been given to secure and offer son-ship in the kingdom of glory.

Jesus ... having found him he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” He answered, “And who is he, sir, that I may believe in him?" Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and it is he who is speaking to you.” He said, “Lord, I believe,” and he worshiped him. Jesus said, “For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind.” (John 9:35-39 ESV)

Christ comes to reveal signs and wonders, that he might then reveal the glory of his redeeming grace. He is the great I AM. He is the Lord of the Sabbath. He is your healing substitute and sacrifice. And he has looked upon you with his eye of forgiveness -- from the Cross.

A blessed OCULI Sunday to each of you — in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen